One evening this week I was strolling the stationary aisle of my local grocery store looking for Father’s Day cards. The selection of cards was dizzying; a wealth of color and sparkle and sentiment. This card poked fun at a love of fishing, that one was grateful for patience and integrity, another one was affectionately dotted with hearts. I reviewed the mental checklist of the various fathers I have in my life, carefully selecting stationary that seemed to speak to each relationship. As I made my choices and reflected on the experiences I have shared with these individuals, I was stunned by how the men in my life have shaped me over the years; how their influence has guided me to the place I am now. I am a pediatrician, a veteran, a mother and wholly devoted to my family. I don’t think I would have arrived here without the nurturing and challenges that my father and grandfather gave me.
I was twelve when I decided I would be a doctor. I remember the clarity of the decision. It had weight and finality to it, and I never had a doubt from its inception that my goal would be realized. I was fortunate enough to grow up in a household where goals were celebrated, and no dream was deemed too ambitious. My father seemed as excited by the prospect of medical school as I was. It was he that fostered my initial love for science, although I grew up with parents and grandparents who encouraged curiosity and learning. My mother’s influence tended towards mathematics and music, my father loved science and engineering and my grandfather (among his wealth of knowledge) loved nature.
One evening each week I would have a “science night” with my Dad. The laboratory was one half of the basement of our house. It was a cave – unfinished with exposed HVAC ducts and wiring. Along the perimeter of its stud exposed walls were workbenches. One small area was for soldering; my dad had a penchant for wiring his own electronics. Another much larger workbench was for building model airplanes which he would construct and fly by remote control. The last wall was set up with a large folding table for my sister and I, where we were allowed to explore our own interests, and on our science night Dad would sit with each of us and allow us to explore, without limits, our curiosity about the world around us.
It was at this table, under harsh fluorescent lighting and suffering the lingering smell of epoxy glue from the modeling workbench, that I first looked under a microscope and marveled at the microscopic wonders of bacteria from saliva and found beauty in the structure of a cell wall. At this table I learned how to wire a breadboard and create a basic circuit. I built model rockets with my Dad, relishing the excitement of the coming weekend when we would fly them at the park near our house. Through each project he would dissect each step of the process, explaining the why and how of every experiment. He taught me to be careful of detail, meticulous and observant.
My grandfather also was a great influence in my life. In the summers my sister and I would spend weeks at my grandparent’s house. My grandfather had been a teacher and even into his seventies never passed up the opportunity to share his knowledge and observations of the world. He always preferred to be outdoors. Many of my memories with Granddaddy are outside. We would hike through the parks learning about conifers and deciduous trees. He named them like friends and told us stories about their growth cycles as if recounting fond memories. We would fish and each specimen we brought up initiated a biology lesson about species, coloring, fin shape or even water salinity. He found wonder in the seemingly mundane, and he infected my sister and I with the same curiosity. I learned patience on those long walks through the hot Florida sun, and I learned to see joy and beauty in the world around me.
Among the definitions of the word “father” in the dictionary is,” to be the creator and founder or author of; originate”. As a child I basked in the glow of my father and grandfathers’ knowledge. As an adult I am stunned by where their tutelage has guided my life. The foundation they gave me included not only their love of science, but they taught me so many things that have contributed to who I am as an adult and physician. I learned patience and how to communicate, how to form relationships and how to collaborate with others. Their lessons on science and experimentation were always paired with those about integrity and truth, persistence and diligence, joy and wonder.
Father’s Day has a different nuance for me now than it did so many years ago. Now among the cards I look at are ones for my husband. We have four children together; one girl and three boys. Over the years I have witnessed the lessons he gives to our children; humility, patience, good sportsmanship, honesty and persistence. My heart overflows when I witness him gracefully sidestep gender stereotypes that might give artificial obstacles to my daughter and sons. I see that he loves our children for their authenticity; not only for who they are now, but what they may become. I value those attributes knowing that my father had them as well, and if he hadn’t, I would not have dreamed big, not celebrated my goals, and never donned my stethoscope.
Happy Father’s Day to all the Dads out there who encourage their children to dream with ambition, and who give them a strong foundation on which to stand while they reach for their goals.
Dr. Alexandra Pinon is a General Pediatrician, Navy wife, mother of four and a contributing author to the “Chronicles of Women in White Coats”. She lives in San Antonio, Texas with her family.